Last week marked the two-year anniversary of Theresa May becoming Prime Minister. Alongside her infamous slogan “Brexit means Brexit”, she stated at Lancaster House that we would leave the single market, the Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
It was a great speech which encouraged those who voted to leave that the referendum result would be respected and implemented. Because without leaving all of those institutions, Britain would effectively remain in the European Union by the back door.
It paved the way for great opportunities for the United Kingdom. Leaving the Customs Union, for example, would allow our country to sign our own trade agreements with countries outside the EU – helping the poorest people in the world and bringing down prices in our shops too.
Leaving the single market would allow the UK to be in control of our immigration policy, as we would not be obliged to accept free movement of people. It would mean that we would no longer make payments to the EU every year. And, perhaps most crucially, the laws which we must all obey would be passed by those we elect and those we hold accountable.
All of these opportunities put into action would bring prosperity to our country, and that is why it is so disappointing that the Government’s White Paper has decided to opt for a compelte and utter fudge.
The problems arise in the White Paper straight away. Take, for example, an extract from the very first chapter: “the UK proposes the establishment of a free trade area for goods”. The principle behind this idea is that it would ensure the free movement of goods between the UK single market and the EU single market. However, the EU is extremely unlikely to accept this offer without us having to abide by freedom of movement.
But the main problem is that if the EU did accept it, the UK would agree to a “common rulebook”. By accepting this, the UK would commit to accepting all of the EU’s regulations regarding goods, without having a seat at the table to debate them – an even worse position than remaining in the EU. This would hinder our ability to diverge from the EU’s regulatory body, restricting our ability to make our economy more competitive and to strike free trade deals.
Yet the Prime Minister maintains that Parliament would first have to accept the EU’s rules and pass them itself. However, as David Davis pointed out, this would be an illusory sense of sovereignty – if Parliament did reject pieces of EU regulation, parts of our trade deal would be considered void.
Another concern is that it is not a common rulebook at all, rather it is the EU’s rulebook. If the EU decided to change part of it, the UK Parliament would effectively be obliged to vote in favour of them or face the consequences. But, if the UK makes any changes, the EU would be under no obligation to mirror them.
So this proposal essentially means we would keep many parts of EU membership, only on worse terms than before – by accepting their laws, we would still be effectively subject to the rulings of the European Court of Justice, something that the British people definitely did not endorse in their vote to leave.
President Trump, while undeniably rude about Mrs May, was correct when he said that the White Paper would result in the USA negotiating with the EU, not the UK when trying to strike a trade deal with the UK. This intervention by the President in itself demonstrates that Britain would not have the full freedom and flexibility to strike our own trade deals, putting us at a major disadvantage on the global stage.
Now, many people who argue in favour of the Chequers deal, while not fully convinced about it themselves, ask: what is the alternative? The simple truth is, to coin a phrase of which the Prime Minister herself was so fond, no deal is better than a bad deal, and this White Paper is a very bad deal.
For the British economy to succeed in the long-term, we must have the ability to diverge from the EU and make comprehensive trade deals with other countries. Yes, in the short-term, no deal will cause economic disruption to the UK, but it will do more damage to the EU. The EU sells more to the UK than the UK sells to the EU, so if WTO tariffs are introduced, it is EU businesses that will suffer most.
This will result in the EU requesting to reopen negotiations, with a view to striking a simple free trade agreement with the UK, which is exactly what Brexiteers argued for from the beginning.
Looking to the future, it is simply unacceptable for Britain to remain under the control of the European Union. We must able to diverge from EU tariffs and regulations to make the most of Brexit, and Mrs May’s proposal greatly restricts our ability to do that. It is time to accept that no deal is better than the White Paper.
James Bundy is Chairman of Conservative Future Scotland.